Manliness and Foodliness

image from www.travelchannel.comIt's no secret: I love television.  I love trashy TV and not-as-trashy TV.  I love everything from VH1 countdowns to Mad Men to an evening with a Yankees game. I will admit, however, that the Travel Channel has never really caught my interest.  I've spent a while now subjected by my fiance to Anthony Bourdain's food travels which honestly grate on my nerves like a cheese-grater on my forearm. But now, in its second season, my household (which includes one public health graduate student) has come across something strange and amazing on that channel: Man v Food.

The concept is simple. Adam Richman travels around and eats in different cities. He eats things that are everything we know to be bad for our bodies. He ("Man") challenges Food, and at the end of each episode, he accepts Food's challenge in return. The last stop in each city is some ridiculously outrageous food challenge offered by some local dining outpost. These include burgers bigger than most plates you own, 11-pound pizzas, 72 ounces of different cuts of steak, and the spiciest dishes you'll never want to eat. Most are heart attacks on a plate; All are calculated recipes for some frightening indigestion.

Reasons this should be terrible:

  1. Food is meant to be enjoyed, not fought. -- This is an easy one. It is clear that Richman loves food. It is also clear that he loves the food he is eating on the show.
  2. We're sick of people traveling around and showing us where to eat. Worse, we're tired of people finding some hook for their travel-and-eat show. -- Rachel Ray did it on $40 a day while squealing and smiling in that way that only she can do. Bourdain does it while reading his brand of travel writing in a voice-over narration (reference the cheese-grater above). And closest to MvF's concept, Guy Fieri does it in a classic car.
  3. As delicious as the food seems, the quantity makes it absolutely disgusting. Further, let's be honest, there's no need to add the glory of a fighting champion to the obesity-inducing eating habits of Americans. -- This one is slightly more difficult to discuss and brings me to

Reasons why this works:

  1. Food wins. -- That's right.  As the opening of the show tells us, Richman is not a competitive eater. He's just a dude who knows and loves food, with a sort of typical-dude ability to eat a lot. The best part of the show is that Food defeats Man quite frequently.  There are just some quantities of food that people are not supposed to eat, and though he tries, Richman often fails. This failure is because
  2. The challenges are asinine. -- They are immediately recognizable as inhumane by any viewer. Still, Richman asks each and every proprietor two simple questions: "How many people have attempted the challenge?" and "How many have succeeded?" These questions are meant to demonstrate how insurmountable the task at hand is. They also serve to quantify the nonsense.
  3. Quantity versus Quality. -- Before the challenge, Richman tends to eat reasonable quantities of food at other notable restaurants in the area. Here, he eats what seems to be amazing food in relatively moderate quantities. Then there's the challenge, wherein Richman's face and words make clear that the first few bites are far more enjoyable than his last few. 
  4. Adam Richman. -- Not to blow his cover, but Richman is not-so-much your typical dude. Lots of jobs in the restaurant industry aside, his Travel Channel bio points out his undergraduate degree in international studies and his masters from the Yale School of Drama. He's a well educated actor. More education than almost ninety percent of the adult population, however, makes the show pretty awesome because the things that he knows aren't esoteric crap about food. Instead, he has a practiced and delightful approach to everyday yumminess, the crowd in the restaurant cheering him on, and the camera.  Also, Richman understands the value of comparative scales. His favorite reference is his own head. By this I mean that more often than not he will hold giganda foodstuffs next to his head.
  5. The graphics. -- No joke. The MvF graphics are some of the best I've seen on television in a very long time. These range from superhero-esque title blocks to a roughly animated Vaudevillian weightlifter punching a drumstick to big yellow call-outs annotating the ingredients in a layered torta.
  6. OK, last one: After the battle, there's the requisite "press conference." You'll have to watch this for yourselves.

That's what I got.  That and the suggestion that the show's website offer a cumulative scoreboard for the season.